The Future of Management

Gary Hamel’s latest book ‘The Future of Management’, co-authored with Bill Green, is an apt sequel to his previous bestseller ‘Leading the revolution’. Where Leading the revolution (LTR) was about the differences between incremental and radical innovations and shaking old guard out of its slumber;  ‘the future of management’ has ‘management innovation’ at its core. In the preface, Hamel underlines that this book is for everyone who feels hogtied by bureaucracy and wants to do something about it. It is a de facto manifesto for those who intend to rid their organizations of the ravaging poltergeists (old guard’s orthodoxies) inhabiting the system in the absence of threats of exorcism.

Hamel carries forward many themes from LTR to this book. In the first chapter, he stigmatizes the sameness between the present day management and Taylor’s era of management. According to Hamel, we still continue to chug along with the traditional rules of management such as the silo-based approach to work, division of labour, top to bottom decision-making. He emphatically accuses industrialization for disconnecting employees from creativity. Organizations must jettison Tayloristic approaches and adopt management innovation in order to become enterprises of the future. Author professes that no other genre of innovation – operational, product, strategic – creates as disproportionate an amount of value creation as the management innovation does.  He also asks for continuous self-renewal in the absence of crisis to mount any unprecedented challenges.

Part one of the book lays out the agenda for management innovation. Hamel’s mantra to this genre of  innovation is simple: “First imagine, then invent.” He spots loopholes in the existing management systems; lays bare the innovation/creativity sector and the treatment it gets in today’s organizations. In the words of Hamel, since innovation, tacitly, is considered to be a prerogative of the top-management, any chance of ‘grassroots innovation’ is stifled in the bud. Hamel’s directive: Make innovation everyone’s job. Everyone’s job? This is where it gets a little debatable. Hamel’s agenda sounds soothing for the upper echelons of management. However, the reader might wonder as to how someone from the frontline challenge the notions of the ‘Chain of command’, especially, in high power-distance cultures such as India and China. This is more contentious in family-owned businesses where getting through to the top management is an arduous task, let alone challenging their whims and notions on something. I do not doubt Hamel’s conviction about grassroots innovation. I, however, contest the assertion that ‘any’ organization could be a Google or a Whole Foods. These organizations – incorporated in ‘The Future of Management’ as case-studies – have a risk-oriented, innovations-from-anywhere culture only because they had their founders in the vanguard. If employees at ‘Whole Foods’ can access the financial details of the company or if they can peep into the executive compensation system, it’s only because their top management lets them. I dread to imagine the consequences of getting caught while sneaking a peek into my CEO’s pay cheque.

In the third part of the book, Hamel lays down the guidelines to deconstruct the orthodoxies plaguing the organizations. Since the world has moved beyond ‘command and control’, Hamel suggests that organizations need to get a move on, too. Today, nothing galvanizes workers so much as motivation and freedom do. Much to the annoyance of the old guard, Hamel favors discipline and freedom and proves with the counterexamples that two can coexist. Author propounds five design principles to take the leap into the new paradigm:

1) Life – In life,Experimentation beats planning. So, too, in organizations, success depends less on planning what will come next and more on experimenting what could come next.

2) Markets – In most companies, ‘wisdom of the few’ prevails, unlike markets which are apolitical. Success mantra is to get the right resources to the right people at the right time.

3) Democracy – Everyone in the organization should have a voice. In organizations, too, power should flow up and accountability should flow down, just like in democracies.

4) Faith – People put more effort into what they believe in. Faith empowers transformation. Give your people a vision to follow.

5) Cities – Diversity in an organization can spawn a deluge of creativity, as is the case with progressive cities.

Hamel instructs the reader to undertake their own mission rather than merely be inspired by the accounts of those mentioned in the book. To cap it off, I would reiterate Hamel’s most significant rules for a management innovator:

1) To solve a systemic problem, understand its roots first.

2) Run the new in parallel with the old. Keep your metrics about what you want to improve clear.
3) De-risk the process by starting small or by experimenting in your own backyard.
4) Experiment, learn, Experiment, learn.
5) Don’t give up!

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